April 18, 2011

Drag City: Some Sketches on Writing as Performance

by Cole Cohen

Why am I so fascinated by divas? Is it research for a rebirth? A crackling chrysalis split down the back like an ill fitting prom dress, revealing wings of wet pulp; shivering like a Chihuahua until the blood funnels through stiff tiny insect veins and I unfurl my majesty. Is there a term limit for divas? Is my application lost in the mail? Am I late for the coronation? Of course I am. So I peek through the curtains and giggle at the queen. Who can breath through all that taffeta? But the truth is I want you tighten my corset; make it so I can’t breathe.

I want to enforce a structure on my writing that pulls me in and pushes me up, forces an alluring overspill. Paragraphs feel baggy, loose fitting. Timelines and resumes and questionnaires act as a harness, pulling me in until my sentences inevitably runneth over. I want structure so that I can ooze through the cracks of it.

I write about bodies. I write about how they fail us and how we fail them. Cartoon bodies are invincible. Over and over again, they take a pummeling only to launch back up. Text is a cartoon body in which one transcends the limitations of physicality, where the dead spring back up, invincible. In writing no one stutters, Porky Pig should have been a writer. Text is the only body that can outrun time. Writing is a super power. It grants alter egos. By day, I am a mild mannered geek but by night, in front of my laptop, I am no longer limited by the squeeze box of my anatomy. I am endlessly elastic.

Text’s greatest gift to us its indifference to its user. It is entirely submissive. It will do nothing without your prodding it into order. The alphabet is free. You don’t have to take it dinner. It’s also not going anywhere. I have abandonded text, accusing it of abandoning me, but it never went anywhere. It stayed, waiting for me. It can wait longer than I can. There’s not getting rid of it, I’ve tried. Lucky for me, text cannot hold a grudge.

Writing is such an impossibly overarching super power, overwhelmingly simple. I am afraid of it, afraid of my own super power. When I say that writing is my super power, I do not mean that I am the best writer or even a good writer. I mean that the ability to sit down and type out thoughts, accompanied by the ability to read them, is beyond human. We make a big deal about how we are the only humans who are able to write but we don’t make a big deal about how we are the only humans who can ignore writing, who have the ability to process text but may choose not to. There is no other being on the planet who can skip down an article to the bottom of it. There is overwhelming power in what we choose not to do.

I have an invisible disability and an invisible ability. To look at me, you cannot see that I have a neurological condition and you cannot tell that I am writer. I am invisible. Our strengths and weakness are noble gases, impossible to outwardly detect. When I am out in the world these capabilities and incapabilities are cloaked. So why do I spend so much of my time hiding?

The blank page is an abandoned warehouse, dark and spooky and with the chilly sense that it is somehow living, waiting. Lyric essay or performative writing is like the artist who rather than filling up the warehouse cuts shapes out of it.

Copyright Cole Cohen 2011

Bio: Cole Cohen received her M.F.A. in creative writing from CalArts in 2009. She has been a Yaddo fellow and is currently a finalist for the 2011 Bakeless Prize in Nonfiction.

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